Constance Carter would have had a nice ring to it. Then again, anything with the smell of normal life would have been a welcomed relief. All that was gone, now that Constance was gone.
Toa rubbed at his two day old stubble, sitting on the edge of his bed. Skycity spread in a breathtaking panorama before him, his studio apartment having floor to ceiling windows on three sides rather than walls. It failed to inspire any attention. Night had fallen, but he felt like he was waking up with a hangover.
As he got up, he heard the guy in his bed groan, and move.
“Evening,” Toa remarked back, nonplussed. He felt the dry, hard sensation of the carpet against his bare feet. He wondered if Preston was checking out his ass or not.
“Oh. So it is.”
The wide, long studio was completely silent. Seeing the city outside was like watching newsfeeds on mute. A clock winked into existence on his heads up. 21.45. He probed the links again, but they still returned with the same dead sensations. No Manly. No Agency.
“I was wondering now I’ve managed to keep you in bed for more than a few hours,” Preston remarked, idly. “That we might be able to go on a trip or something. I don’t know. A holiday maybe?”
Toa picked up a tall glass from the service, but had no idea what was even after tasting it. He barely noticed it as he stared back towards the wide bed, sheets in disarray. He vaguely remembered the night of fucking. Preston called it love Maori style, but Toa remembered more frankly what it had been. A quick call, and Preston dropping a few social engagements to conveyance his way out to Toa’s West Districts studio.
Preston’s hair looked a mess, Toa thought. Not the bold spikes, instead rolled flat. One drooped over like a jesters hat. The guy reached over to his cigarettes.
“Don’t smoke those things in here,” Toa commented, sharp. He looked towards the large face that loomed out of the dark, shadowing the southern end of his view of the city. “Fucked if I’m gonna pay for another callout ’cause you set off the alarms again.”
Preston let out a slight grunt of disappointment. Toa ignored the guy, hoping that it would be enough to make him leave. He considered all the things that he was meant to do now. Protocol called for a whole lot of nothing. Live your life like normal. Make no moves on any of your cases. Toa wandered towards the huge face, feeling the dropsheet under his feet, and then the woodchips. Half realised ancestors stared down at him.
“What do you think about that though?” ask Preston, his voice soft and singsong, a small tell of his other occupation other than part time lover. “Just you and me. Maybe we can go to the islands. Maybe Tonga.”
“I’ve always known that you were a Johnny-cum-Greatly, drifting in and out of life, Toa, but fucked if I’m going to put up with this sort of tone.”
“Then why don’t you just fuck off then,” Toa remarked, not caring about the harsh tone in his own voice. It might be enough to get Preston to leave. When was the last time he had even picked up a chisel, in this strange pretense of a normal life?
“What the fuck happened to you Toa? You used to at least be fun. Not that you’re not fun in the sack whatever your mood, but fucks sake. At least you used to laugh a little before.”
Toa ignored the guy and stared up at the huge carving. Now he had the time, and the reason to go back to pretending, Toa didn’t feel like it. He’d never been able to set himself to a task for all that long anyway. He heard movement behind him, movement.
“Well I guess when you’re in the mood to fuck again, without the emotional attachments, give me a fucking link …”
Toa glanced over and watched as Preston started to dress himself. Short, angry little movements. He wondered for the briefest of moments again whether he was starting to switch, but then a night in bed with Preston had prooved again he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Too much deep cover. Didn’t Constance always say that deep cover was what he was good at. Pretending at happy homes with an agent who ends up going AWOL. Even playing the expert carver to the Skycity art community. He’d even given a silent and seedy hand at pornstar amongst all that.
Preston was dressed, a tight little one piece number that showed off his athletic curves, like a swimmer, or dancer. He didn’t look all that together, with his hair as unprepared as it was. He’d tried to pull it back into some sort of control, but it had only made it look worse.
“Always figured we had something, big boy,” Preston said. There was a concern in his tone that Toa didn’t care for. Preston crossed to where he stood. “But fucked if I’m going to let you keep shutting me out.”
Toa shrugged his husky shoulders. “You know me,” he muttered.
“I figured I did.”
Toa let a heavy breath carry through him, but didn’t let it travel out with the huff that it might have. He just waited, watching Preston watching him. He should have seen this coming. But maybe this was their little game. They played it every time he called Preston at some obscure hour, and they finally parted again.
Preston gave him a slight peck on the lips, before leaving. Toa felt a sense of finality this time. He wouldn’t be surprised if this was the last time.
The door opened, and for a moment, there was sound. Then as it closed again, the apartment sunk back to silence.
* * *
‘You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.’
Probably the only thing that had stuck in Toa’s head of his childhood. The city was alive around him as he walked along one of the high boulevards of Downtown. There was a hint of grunge to the place, but it was probably more the nightlife and clientelle than the area. A ghost would be called in a second, and Toa knew enough without Agency connection to know there was survelliance everywhere.
A few brief spats of rain still managed to get down between the buildings. They spanned up and above, like trees of a great forest. The boulevard above should have been enough to shelter him from the worst of it, but Toa could still feel it through his black trench.
In the dull greys of the city at night, angelic blue halos sung and danced. Most were still soft and muted, some sat within the warm confines of the buildings, behind walls made almost transparent by wetware. Above, a line of wobbing and watery images tried to sell him Pop Fizz.
One halo flared bright blue and a face popped into existence beside him. The asian face lit with pleasure.
“Toa! Where have you been?! I haven’t seen you since the New Years Party!”
“Garly,” he muttered, hands still buried in the pockets of his trench. “Ignoring protocols as always.”
“Fuck yes. I haven’t seen you since you skipped out that night. You said you were just going to the bathroom.”
“I got distracted.”
“Big friend, distracted is your middle name.” Her face was almost a glowing blue neon, more avatar than hyper reality. “Tell me you’re going to come up and visit me though? I been hearing that you’re here and there, but nothing confirmed. I need some fun!”
Toa frowned, and knew that it would show over the link. Garly was entirely unphased, such was her enthusiasm. Now why couldn’t he settle down with a nice girl like her? Toa figured that his mother would have approved of that. He avoided the foot traffic, watching as down below on the street, a Steel Jenny shot past, red and blues pulsing with its sirens.
“I might have a drink, but I’m feelin’ a lil under the weather at the moment, girl.”
Garlys face blinked from expression to expression, proof of avatar enough. It ended up at the same enthusiatic. “I’ve got some ZellaTops. Latest from Nippon. It’s all the crazy. Makes your synapses crackle! That’ll put the pep into you.”
“Not sure if much will put the pep into me at the moment.”
“Catch a boxer fight?” she suggested, expression blinking to pensive. Hopefuly. Toa almost smiled. “I know you oogle-oogle. We both can. If we watch Whitespaced you can do all the dirties with the winner you want. I’ll pay for the pay-by-view. Top rank.”
“You’re nasty, girl,” Toa remarked. He couldn’t help but feel a little something creeping across his expression. He didn’t want to show it. He should be worrying, not slipping from that life to this.
“I know you like the tight lil welterweights, you big, nasty nasty.”
“Ilsa Garly, you are a messed up fangirl.”
“You know I watch your old reels. I never denied that. Cmoooon. Just a few hours. I know you’re probably going to end up being caught up in something else soon anyway. Least you can do is give me a few hours … pleeeeease?”
The whining almost tipped Toa back, but the thought of ignoring yet another life was tempting. No telling how long the Code Black might be. Even if he could link Constance, even if she was still in the Agency’s contacts, he wouldn’t have been able to with the network blackout. Every agent alone, isolated. Like they never existed.
You can be whatever you want to be.
“Oh, oh, oh! Have you seen Preston lately?”
“No,” Toa lied. The wound of how he had treated the guy was fresh and now reopened. He could have been a little more civil, he figured.
“It’s all over! I thought you would have picked it up on the local feeds.”
Toa glanced at the dancing face that had now sprung a tiny body, “What do you mean?”
“He turned up dead in the clubs last night! It looked like a drug overdose, but everyone who knows Preston knows he doesn’t do that sort of stuff! Scandal!”
Garly caught a little of Toa’s reaction, as much as he tried to shove it down. “Oh no! You didn’t know?”